Monday, July 28, 2008

Belgium: Art Objects

Bruges was merely the first, abet longest, stop on our whirlwind tour through Belgium.  While in Bruges we visited two museums.  The first was the Memling Museum.  Housed in the medieval hospital of St. John, the museum had a extensive collection of paintings by Hans Memling (1430-1494).  Memling was a pupil of Rogier van der Weyden, and several critics have stated that Memling's work is highly derivative of van der Weyden's.  I say, who cares, Memling was a great colorist, and everything is derivative (see Freakish Vase and My Teapot Idea).  An interesting side note: the hospital wanted to cover all of their bases, so John the Baptist and John the Apostle were both patrons.

This image doesn't really do it justice, especially not John the Apostle's vision, pictured in the right panel.  It is different images of his vision of the apocalypse, most surrounded by a rainbow bubble.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding across a series of gigantic lily-pads in the sky.  What's not to love?

After the Memling Museum, we headed to the Groeninge Museum. Where I got to see multiple paintings by Hieronymus Bosch!   Pictued below is Christ Carrying the Cross, a straightforward enough subject.  But look at all the crazy figures Bosch has painted around Christ!  Apart from Veronica (pictured holding the cloth she used to wipe Jesus' face, on which a portrait of Jesus miraculously appeared) and Jesus, everyone else looks terrifying and crazy.

I also got to see Bosch's The Last Judgement, which, as I'm sure you can image, was total madness.  Unfortunately I cannot find a picture which does the insanity justice online, you'll just have to image.  I had the audio guide, which described the left panel, picturing the Elect frolicking merrily in Paradise, by saying, "And Bosch's vision of Heaven is just as bizarre as his visions of Hell and the Debauchery on Earth.  However, the peaceful expressions of the denizens of Heaven indicate that whatever is going on is pleasant."  One of the figures in Heaven was riding a unicorn.

We saw all these sights in Bruges on Saturday.  On Sunday, after another Belgian Belgian waffle, we caught a train for Gent.  In Gent I went to the contemporary art museum.  Contemporary art museums are hit-and-miss.  There is always some pile of junk of the floor that is a sculpture, a room full of stereos whispering things are you, large sculptures made out of found pieces of crap, lots of explanatory essays full of run-on sentences about the art.  I can't even read those run-on essays; they make my brain want to explode.  Scattered among these items are usually a couple awesome things.  However, the ratio of awesome to crap is skewed pretty far toward crap.  So, after a short tour through contemporary art, I ran over to the fine arts museum and got to see another Bosch(!) and other Early Netherlandish painters.

The older city center of Gent is really lovely.  Gent is a large city, so the city center is the only medieval part, unlike Bruges.

This store was full of wallpaper that was obviously designed in the 1970s.  Something like, behangingpapier in Dutch.  Harvest gold and burnt orange - yes please!  One wall of this stuff would be completely overwhelming.  Too bad it was closed.

This was a castle situated in the old center of Gent.  I like how there were obviously no objections to running the tram cables all over the place in this square.  And check out the huge contemporary sculpture of a spider web attached to the castle.  Classy.

A huge arbor was in the public park near the contemporary museum and fine art museum.

More of Gent.

When Louise and I were planning this trip, a week or so ago, she said, "I feel like there is something important in Gent we need to see."

I said, "The Gent Altarpiece?"


Our main reason for stopping in Gent was the Gent Altarpiece.  This is a masterpiece by Jan van Eyck (1395-1441).  Vasari credits van Eyck with inventing oil painting (sorry kids, you'll have to look up Vasari yourself...).  Western easel painting before the advent of synthetics can be roughly divided into two broad categories, tempera and oil.  Tempera uses eggs as a binding material, oil obviously uses drying oils.  Van Eyck didn't invent oil painting, people had been experimenting with it as a binder for years before, but he really mastered oils.

The Gent Altarpiece is housed in the Cathedral of St. Bavo.  St. Bavo or Baaf, as he is known in Dutch, is the patron saint of Gent and Belgium.  It was hard to find, in kind of a ridiculous way, as there are four gigantic Gothic cathedrals all in a row in the middle of Gent.  We went into two before we found the right one.

Cathedral interior.

I lit a candle for the little brother at the Saint Joseph.  Specifically the candle in the lower right.

The Gent Altarpiece, alternately known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.  This is gigantic and really is a masterpiece.  Easily ten feet tall.  Wikipedia actually has a really great page on the Gent Altarpiece - check it out if you have some time.

After Gent it was on to Antwerp!  I went to the Fotomuseum Antwerpen and Louise went to the Museum of Fine Arts.  The Fotomuseum was pretty cool; I often feel awkward in photo museums and galleries because they attract a hipster crowd.  I'm usually like, "Whatever hipsters.  Just because you wear tight pants doesn't mean you know anything about this stuff."

It was really warm, so after the museums we got ice cream and hopped on the train back to Amsterdam.  It was a really great train ride, semi-sleeping, windows open, warm/cool breezes blowing in, and the hay fields outside smelling like summer.

Trains make nice canvases.  In the Antwerp central station.


Mum said...

I appreciate the prayers and candle at Saint Joseph especially with your brother starting college this fall.

Ynn said...

oecatTank and I lit several candles while travelling around. Somehow, those breathtaking cathedrals seem to make one feel closer to God than the oft times rather impersonal churches here. I think it's because you have to imagine the dedication and devotion of all the hundreds of people who worked to create such beautiful places. It's like every brick laid, every cherub guilded, every painting said "I believe".

Anonymous said...

I am learning so much. Now I want to see Belgium. I may have to hold you directly responsible for my ensuing wonder-lust!

Beth said...

i learned about the Gent alter piece in my art history class when i was in austria!!